Health care workers in Ottawa are preparing for an influx of Syrian refugees in the coming weeks, many of whom have been living in deplorable conditions overseas.

Hassan Abed came to Canada seven years ago after fleeing the violence in Iraq.

He arrived with a sore back after someone pushed him with a gun. His parents were also dealing with medical issues. 

"My mom especially when she [saw] my brother murdered suddenly she get shock and after that she got diabetes. Actually multiple medical problems," he said.

Abed visited one of Ottawa's public health clinics where both he and his mother received care.

Hassan Abed

Hassan Abed visited one of Ottawa's public health clinics when he arrived as a refugee from Iraq seven years ago. (CBC)

Now Ottawa's community health centres are preparing for what may be an unprecedented influx of refugees. They are setting up medical assessment hubs to deal with a wide range of physical and mental health problems.

Canadian officials are already screening for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis in refugee camps overseas. 

Dr. Alison Eyre, who helps refugee claimants navigate the health care system, said she hopes newcomers arrive with their medical records so they don't have to repeat tests.

"People will come and have three visits at one of these hubs. The things we will be looking for will be very specifically identified based on what we're seeing from the countries as well as what we're seeing from the different camps and what we're hearing," she said.

Free dental care

A lack of dental care has also been flagged as a cause for concern.

In response, one dentist in Kanata is offering free emergency dental care to refugees escaping the conflict in Syria.

'I've been very lucky to be a Syrian living in Canada and now being able to give back to new Syrians becoming Canadian.'
- Dr. Yamen Ghamian  

Dr. Yamen Ghamian, a dentist at Centrum Dental Centre, said when he saw the news about the thousands of refugees destined for Canada, he knew he had to help.

"They're going to have many needs, including dental needs. Me being a dentist I wanted to try and give back a little bit and help. So I contacted a buddy of mine who lives in Ottawa. The two of us decided to offer free emergency dental care to any refugees who come to us," he said.

But the idea didn't stop there. Soon more dental clinics came forward offering free care.

"Now we're over 30 clinics in five provinces and this is in the span of a month," Ghamian said.

Yamen Ghamian

Dr. Yamen Ghamian, a dentist in Kanata, says offering free emergency dental care is his way of helping refugees. (CBC)

"I think the reality of refugee camps is that you're trying to survive as best as you can. That being said, dentistry probably goes pretty low on the list of where priorities are. even if there are dental concerns there's limited access to dental care," Ghamian said. "The costs may become an issue."

Ghamian said he's already seen at least one Syrian refugee family in his dentist's chair, and he's anticipating more in the next few weeks.

"The extent of it we'll find out as time goes on," he said.

Ghamian's father left Syria in the 1960s, choosing to raise his family in Canada. Some of Ghamian's relatives are still living in the country, or have recently fled.

"I've been very lucky to be a Syrian living in Canada and now being able to give back to new Syrians becoming Canadian."